Trump denies improper contacts between campaign and Russia despite FBI investigation

WASHINGTON -- President Trump was asked by three reporters at his Thursday press conference if any of his campaign staffers were in regular contact with Russian operatives during the election.

“No, no, nobody that I know of,” he responded to one reporter.

He denied any connections to the Kremlin and dismissed the investigation.

“Russia is a ruse,” Mr. Trump said. “I have nothing to do with Russia, haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years.”

The FBI counterintelligence unit is investigating whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government to undermine the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. That accusation is found in a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British spy. It singles out former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

In an interview with CBS News, Page acknowledged traveling to Russia more than 100 times since 1991, but denied working with the Russian government.

“I have only said hello to a few Russian officials over the course of the last year or so,” Page said.

Manafort has also denied any inappropriate contact with Russian officials.

Last fall, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had carried out a series of cyberattacks targeting Democratic Party computer networks.

“Hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else,” Mr. Trump said in December.

For months, Mr. Trump refused to agree with the intelligence community’s assessment. But Thursday in Brussels, Mr. Trump’s defense secretary endorsed the conclusions.

“Right now I would just say that there’s very little doubt that they have interfered or they have attempted to interfere in a number of elections in the democracies,” said Secretary James Mattis.